Anxiety: The Millennials’ Dilemma
When we become more “connected” with the world,
we lose connection with ourselves.
-Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC, PNLP
By Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC, PNLP
If I could pick a word to describe my generation of millennials, it would be anxiety.
And it’s not like I have escaped this generational issue. I have struggled with anxiety, and I could still give into it if I’m not hyper-vigilant to get out of the over-obsessing loop of anticipating unpredictable circumstances. It’s a constant battle because sadly, our culture gives us plenty of reasons to be anxious.
Besides the normal pressures of coming-of-age that all generations experience, millennials have to face “adulting” with the pressure of everyone watching. No generation before has ever experienced the instant access to all things social and digital. No generation before had to learn how to “adult” while managing two lives: your real life and your digital life.
And the scariest part of all, millennials are the last generation to remember what it was like to grow up and play with friends without a cell phone or an iPad. So, if we’re already going through this epidemic anxiety, I fear for the next generation. Bottom line, we’re exhausted. But instead of tuning out and disconnecting with the digital world, we are obsessed with trying to keep up with it—hence the anxiety.
When we become more “connected” with the world, we lose connection with ourselves. We are so focused on everyone else’s lives curated in perfect pictures and videos, that we either feel worthless or try to prove we have worth. Our social media channels have become the unending quest for affirmation weighing our worth in numbers of likes, views, engagements, shares, followers, and friend requests—oh and making sure certain people see our content to convince ourselves that they care. None of it is connection in real life. It’s only connection in the digital life, and it is fleeting.
In turn, while we try to look for connection and self-worth digitally, our real lives suffer.
We turn down going to the party because of too much anxiety.
We commit to things we will never show up to because our anxiety was too much.
We are overly late or overly early depending on how the anxiety dictates the situation.
We drink the moment after we leave work, so we don’t have to experience that dull ache of anxiety.
We scroll and scroll to tune out the anxiety, yet once we stop, we’re flooded with all the comparisons of what we are not. And then that takes a toll on our self-esteem, which is all the more reason to not feel confident to be social in person.
We turn down connection in our real lives because our digital lives exhaust us.
We are so internally distraught, we’re desperate to find some sense of peace.
So, we try to calm ourselves digitally by being consumed with social media, porn, dating apps, and binge-watching Netflix, while in our real lives we can tune out the anxiety with alcohol, food, drugs, and meaningless sex. But with all these escapes, we’re only dulling the problem and not facing it.
As a result, we have lost our center. And sadly, constantly managing anxiety does not mean we are connected to our real lives.
So, how do we get back to center?
Speaking from experience, it’s not an easy road… and there’s nothing quick about the process. I remember over a year ago, I dropped my phone in the toilet, and instead of quickly replacing it, I used the situation as a social experiment to be without a phone for two weeks. I still had my text messages and some social media platforms available through my laptop, but when I was away from my laptop, I could not be reached. I thought it would be difficult to plan to meet up with someone for lunch because I couldn’t text them “here.” Instead, I was able to patiently wait in the restaurant knowing we made plans, she would show up, and she actually showed up on time because she knew she couldn’t text me if she was running late (which she was known to do from her anxiety). I coined the term “LTL” for “Leaving the Laptop” during this two-week stint. It was so freeing to not be so accessible. I didn’t have to anticipate phone calls or responding to notifications. I could be in my present moment versus anticipating my future.
Now, to be honest, I haven’t had this kind of two-week cleanse since. Once I got my phone back, it sucked me in as if I had never experienced the freedom without it. It’s hard to be able to plan for a detox because I feel like I need to have my phone always for work or social media for marketing for my business (even though I really just scroll and don’t post). Yet, sometimes I desperately want to flush my phone down the toilet again just to obtain peace of mind.
I think what is so crazy about social media and our phones is that we know they are causing so much unneeded stress and anxiety, but we don’t feel like we have an option. We feel that we cannot set any boundaries with it because we have to respond. We have to be in the know. We have to be accessible.
The truth is, we don’t have to be slaves to our digital lives.
So, the first step to connect to ourselves is to dismantle this lie.
Yes, work emails, text messages, coordinating schedules all have a legitimate place, but they need to have boundaries. Your real life is much more important than anything going on in your digital life. Your real life means who you are internally connects face-to-face with the world around you in the present moment. It’s a 15-minute walk outside with no way to be reached. It’s journaling or reading a book with your phone in another room. It’s creating something, or organizing, or simply making your bed and not posting a picture of it. It’s doing it for yourself. It’s having a conversation with someone, looking them in the eye and not glancing away to see a notification. It’s prayer and meditation without being interrupted. In a way, it’s like getting to be a kid again. The weight of the world is not on your shoulders.
These small steps will help you get back to center, so when you do have to face this digitally-driven world, you are empowered to know what is actually urgent, deserves a response, and how your worth is not dependent on how many “likes” you receive.
WARNING: the simplest tasks are usually the hardest. But the key is consistency. If you had a binge-day in your digital life (over-thinking and ruminating on all the pointless images and videos you consumed) turn the phone off and do something in your real life. Take that 15-minute walk. Read three pages in a book. Write down what you’re grateful for—make it ten things! Also, challenge yourself to follow the 30/30 rule. The first 30 minutes after you wake up and the last 30 minutes before you go to sleep, omit all social media and answering any messages. Then, your first and last thought of the day is you—not someone else.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, and I will continue to give you more tools to dismantle the anxiety. Like I said before, it’s a rigorous process.
For now, the goal is to reconnect to your real life. The more you do, the more the anxiety will lose its power. You will start to realize you have the power over your own thoughts, time, and sense of worthiness.
And that is real.